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Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail

If one wants to get a feel for what the pre-settled San Joaquin Valley might have looked like, venturing through the Carrizo Plain National Monument would paint a fairly close picture. To get a terrific vantage point of the spacious plain, jumping on the Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail offers a great point of view.

Trailhead access:
Once in the monument, take the unpaved Selby Road towards the Selby Campground area. Once near the campground, keep following signs for the Caliente Mountain Road. The road quickly turns into a steep and narrow drive; having a high clearance vehicle would be useful but not necessary in case the road is washed out from recent rains. After about 3.2 miles, you will arrive at a parking area with an interpretive sign and where the Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail (the trail) begins.

This parking area in and of itself offers great views of Los Padres National Forest to the west and portions of the Cuyama Valley below. You can begin your journey on the trail one of two ways, on the official trailhead that is across from the parking area or via an access road that forks off shortly from Caliente Mountain Road. The two paths link up in about 0.2 mile, so regardless of which start to the adventure you chose, you’ll be walking on Caliente Mountain Ridge. The trail is fairly straightforward from then on.

Once on the ridge, you quickly and consistently get expansive views of ‘California’s Serengeti’. While on the ridge, hikers are exposed to the elements, primarily the sun since most vegetation are tall junipers at best. After about 3.3 miles in, you will stumble upon a gated tower. For those looking for a shorter distance of a hike, this is a great turn around point. For those that want to continue, there are some larger junipers that offer decent shade.

Continue for about another mile and you will come across a rundown settlement with a horse coral; the settlement arguably isn’t too old since there is a trailer home that is in shambles. There is also a worn but useable wooden table for anyone interested in taking lunch or a break. Alternately, this is another great turn around location, especially after taking a rest underneath the shady junipers adjacent to the worn picnic table.

This area is also the boundary of the Caliente Mountain Wilderness Study Area (WSA), a special designation for about 35,600 acres of the Carrizo Plain National Monument that serves as important habitat for a variety of plant and animal life. The WSA and some adjacent lands are proposed for permanent protection as the Caliente Mountain Wilderness in the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act sponsored by Representative Salud Carbajal and Senator Kamala Harris.

If taking on the full trek to the summit, this marks about half way to the top of Caliente Mountain. The views of the grassy plain below and the Cuyama Valley to the opposite side will continue to greet you along the rest of the journey. Once atop the 5,106-foot summit, one will find the toppled skeleton of a lookout tower built during WWII to keep a vigilante eye out for potential enemy planes. While on the summit, you can take in the fact that you are sitting on the highest point in San Luis Obispo County and the Caliente Range.

Trail Rating:
Moderate to Difficult, primarily due to exposure and distance; distance can vary depending on interest.

Trail mileage:
Round trip is approximately 16.9 miles, roundtrip (summit). Other potential loops with nice stopping points are 8.6 miles round trip (WSA boundary), and 6.6 miles roundtrip (gated tower).

Approximate Timing:
Full length of trail, approx. 9 hours; to WSA boundary, approx. 5.5 hours; to tower, approx. 4 hours.

General locality:
65 miles west of Bakersfield, About 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles

The Carrizo Plain National Monument does not provide any services such as food, water, or fuel. Plan your trip accordingly and ensure you utilize services before you come to the area. The terrain on the trail is fairly exposed and dry, offering little shade and a high potential for venomous snakes.

Land Acknowledgement:
This public land and trail are ancestral grounds to the Salinan, Chumash, and Yokut people.



Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.